Marrakech. My memory has whisked me right back to the dusty alleys of the Medina. Morocco was only just barely on our radar. It’s not that neither of us wanted to see it (my partner and I), we were just worried that we wouldn’t have enough time to really see it. After spending two months in Southern Africa, it seemed an injustice to spend only two weeks in a North African country, but in the end, we decided that it was better to see some of it, than none of it at all. I expected to like Morocco, but I had no idea how deeply in love I was about to fall with a country, a people, and an iconic city. Marrakech has the power to illicit visions of elaborately woven carpets, exquisite Arabian gardens, vibrant spice markets, and of course, the souks, and it is all those things and so much more.
Our adventure began after a harrowing plane ride on Royal Air Maroc. After taking well over twenty flights over the course of a few previous months, we figured we were seasoned flyers who could handle just about anything. Boy were we wrong! This particular flight was so terrifying that we booked our return flight to London with another airline. The idea of another sideways approach, and into Heathrow of all places, didn’t exactly sit well with us. Despite our flight being over three hours late, the owners of the Riad we had booked still made arrangements to collect us from the airport. In an old Land Rover, under the cover of darkness, we snaked through the ancient and desolate alleys of the Medina. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at a fairly nondescript alley entrance. We both peered around, looking in earnest for markers, or signs, but our host was already scurrying down the alley with some of our luggage, so we wearily followed.
After a couple of lefts and a few confusing rights, we arrived at a typical looking Moroccan door with a scooter parked out front, our apparent home for the next five nights. I remember exchanging looks with my beau and wondering what was on the other side of that door. I would have settled for a hot shower and a warm bed, but I had no idea we’d be getting the royal treatment.
If you have the option to stay in a Riad over a hotel, go with the former. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan dwelling with a garden or courtyard in the middle. In Marrakech, the roof is generally open, allowing natural light to spill down into the rest of the house. Sounds beautiful doesn’t it? That’s because it is, and the Riad Darmore is a piece of opulence, tucked away in the old part of the city. The moment you walk in the door, your breath is stolen by its splendid decor, the grandeur of a softly lit staircase, handcrafted chandeliers, plush decor and warm tones.
After getting settled, we were served traditional mint tea in the meticulously arranged salon, and the soft spoken French owner, Dominique, chatted with us about the hidden treasures of the city. Over the next five nights, Dominique was less our hostess and more our second mother. She housed us in the splendor of her Riad, arranged for private cooking lessons with her staff, and advised on tools of negotiation in the souks. Each morning we dined on creamy homemade yogurt, fresh mint tea, scones and freshly-squeezed orange juice. With the amphitheater of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, and myriad nesting pelicans across the city’s ancient roofs in our midst, Marrakech was to become our playground, and Morocco, so far, had won our hearts.